The difference between the best scoring average on the PGA Tour and the 101st best is just about two strokes. Jordan Spieth leads the pack with 69.252 while Carl Pettersson has averaged 71.255 per round. That’s a minuscule number that shows how tight the tour really is. Any golfer can have a hot day and shoot 65. At the same time, he can slump to a 75.
Gary Woodland entered the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Match Play this weekend as the 52nd ranked player in the field. He made it all the way to the championship mostly off his ability with the driver. In the third place match, a rejuvenated Jim Furyk bested Danny Willett (who?) 3&2.
The final pairings confirmed what we’ve known for about a year-and-a-half now: there’s parity in golf…and Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy rolled up a 4-up lead on Woodland in the championship match before the turn and cruised to a 4&2 victory. This came after he fired a Sunday 65 to surge up the leaderboard at Augusta last month, and eight months or so after he rallied to win his fourth career major at Valhalla.
Jordan Spieth is rightfully the number two ranked player in the world, and he’s been the game’s best this season. But when it comes to playing meaningful golf, no one can touch the world number one.
At his best, Rory resembles an ace pitcher staring down any lineup.
His driver is his four-seam fastball that climbs towards 100 miles-per-hour. He shapes his irons—not to mention changes speeds with them—to attack the greens at varying angles. His deft touch with his wedges, evidenced by his hole-out birdie on seven against Furyk in the semifinals, tantalizes opponents like Johan Santana’s changeup.
And when McIlroy putts well he carries a four-pronged arsenal that rivals anyone in history. Seriously. He’s like Pedro Martinez at the turn of the 21st century. If you took away one pitch, he still had three others that could beat anyone at any time.
As much as McIlroy’s abundance of talent leads him into contention week in and week out in stroke play, it makes him all but unbeatable in match play. He has more leeway, while maintaining his overwhelming advantage. The high numbers that sometimes deflate McIlroy’s rounds serve as blips—he might find himself 1-down rather than two or three over.
Consider the match with Woodland. Rory bogeyed two of the first three holes, but because Woodland did the same he was all-square. By the time the two reached the seventh green, McIlroy had a long birdie putt to force Woodland into a must-make. Rory drained his, Woodland missed and that was all she wrote. Rory collected his 10th career PGA Tour victory.
On Monday, the Northern Irishman will celebrate his 26th birthday. He joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players with 10 wins before the age of 26. That’s lofty and appropriate company. In history, there’s Jack, Tiger, and everyone else.
Right now, there’s Rory (with Spieth closing fast it must be said) and parity.